For breakfast at the 5 Rabanitos Restaurant at 18th and Wood streets in Pilsen, you can get an amazing plate of carnitas chilaquiles, and skip the coffee in favor of cafe de olle, which has orange zest and cinnamon. While you're there you might also catch writer, director and performer Ricardo Gamboa hovering over a plate sprinkled with matchstick-sliced radishes and his latest project.
Gamboa is an award winner, founder and collaborator on a number of theater initiativesTeatro Americano, the Young Fugitives, and Barrel of Monkeys, to name a few. Now, he's hard at work earning his doctorate in American Studies at New York University, and filming a web series six years in the making: Brujos. The independent series was picked as a finalist with the Sundance-YouTube New Voices Lab. I joined Gamboa at his haven just off the pink line with the story of four queer witches just trying to make the world safer from white nonsense.
Brujos follows four gay Latino witches who are juggling school, love and the threat of a secret society of straight white witch hunters. Each seven minute episode takes the viewer deeper into ancient witchcraft, Chicago neighborhood haunts and the underground queer-party scene.
Panfilo ( played by Gamboa ) is the telekinetic head brujo of his coven. He's your typical gay Latino grad student/witch, pulled from his homo-normative life to protect his coven. He's joined by Edwin, Jonathan and Brian, each with his own power and modeled lovingly from comic book costumed heroes.
Introspective Edwin has an unrequited crush on one of his fellow Brujos, and the ability to become invisible. Jonathan is a naive new Chicagoan, who's got his heart set on a sexy undercover cop, and is working to developing his banshee-like screams. "I don't have any superpowers," Brian claims, "I'm white!" which Brujos confirms is a potent, unrecognized superpower. Brian can't take you in a fight, but his wit and ferocity could break you just as easily.
Each is on a journey to embrace what makes him different. "They're losing those fairy-tale notions of what success and 'cool gay' looks like. We live in a time where an exclusive idea of gay is celebrated," Gamboa said. "It's oriented toward materialism, racism, transphobia, misogyny, and ableism. The leads are confronted with these ideals, no matter how radical they believe themselves to be. They go to battle alongside women, people of color, trans people, and differently abled people."
"It's really important to me that this is not just a gay show, or a Latino show, because gay people and Latino people don't occur in a vacuum, they live in an ecosystem of a world that's contoured by multiple identities. When entitled gay men write 'no Blacks, no Latinos, no Asians, no fats' on their Grindr profiles, we're responding with a show centered on those excluded people."
A brujo is a sorcerer or witch in Mexican tradition; however, Gamboa insists that using the word superstition is a disservice. "There's an impulse to reduce other spiritual beliefs to the terms of western rationality and call something a superstition," Gamboa said. "Is gravity a superstition? Because we can't see it."
"The ideas of Brujos are sown into everyday life for Latinos," he said. "It's not uncommon for someone with a string of bad luck to say they have ojo, or for your grandmother to grab an egg and perform a blessing on you."
Gamboa's challenge has been finding funding for the project without sacrificing any creative control. He's passionate about remaining independent, and ensuring that queer people of color have the artistic helm. "You'll often see a white guy behind the camera because they're given certain resources and networks of support that are denied to socially marginalized groups," he said. "I don't see the industry trying to honestly include new people, without reducing those people to their terms. So what we have to do is support each other."
With bigotry sparking new headlines everyday within the Trump campaign, and with the loss of hundreds of queer men and women to gun violence in Orlando still fresh in our minds, Gamboa is aiming to provide more than fluffy entertainment. Brujos is an answer to hate speech and violence, and a call for young artists to produce.
"I work to make myself obsolete. My job is to get out of the way," Gamboa said, "the work I've done has paved roads, but I'm not going to be a toll booth to any young artists. My students will all be better directors, better teachers, better performers, better writers and better filmmakers than me, and that's what I want."
Brujos is co-directed by Ricardo Gamboa and Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke and filming for the series will begin in November, employing over 30 queer artists of color. Interested persons can support Brujos by making a donation to the Indiegogo campaign, at www.indiegogo.com/projects/brujos-a-queer-of-color-webseries-magic .